It’s been 10 years since k-os’ sophomore release, Joyful Rebellion, transformed Toronto’s most versatile MC/singer/guitarist/song-and-dance-man into a cross-generational, Juno Awards-crashing phenomenon, thanks to a string of ubiquitous, genre-agnostic hit singles—the garage-gritty reggae of “Crucial,” the Thriller-worthy funk of “The Man I Used to Be,” the scat-jazz bounce of “Crabbuckit”—that took up permanent residency on pop, urban, and alternative-rock radio playlists across Canada. But for the artist born Kheaven Brereton, that moment may as well have been 10,000 years ago, when you consider the dramatic album-to-album evolution he’s undergone since. If rap initially emerged in the late 1970s as a collage of disparate sources—pulling in street poetry, chopped-up classic-rock riffs, manually looped James Brown breaks, and primitive electronics—k-os has spent the past decade trying to explode that idea of hip-hop into infinite new possibilities, applying the same collagist approach with a different set of materials on each record. For a restlessly experimental artist like him, there are no such things as career milestones. There are only springboards for the next leap into the unknown.
This unknown territory is soon to be brought into full disclosure with 'Can't Fly Without Gravity', the brand new, genre defying full-length due out late 2015. It's an affirmation that “the forces which pull you down are simply put there to inspire you to rise above them” and promises to be a more stripped-down, holistic effort than its highly conceptual predecessor, 2012’s double-LP opus Black on Blonde. However, the rock-vs. rap dialectic at that album’s core still guides k-os on a more philosophical level: it’s not just a question of reconciling disparate musical styles, but of differing workflow strategies. To be k-os in 2015 is to find the happy medium between hip-hop’s penchant for rapid-fire releases and perpetual stylistic mutation with the more measured approach and timeless aspirations of rock ‘n’ roll artists—all while engineering his music for a post-EDM pop landscape that has not only changed listeners’ tastes, but their very physiology. Current single “Turn Me Loose” is a testament to this, blurring the lines of genre specific stylizations, instead exuding an unabashed confidence that has become such a staple aspect of his sound. Couple this with the new-age banger, “Steel Sharpens Steel” and the physiological shift in his musical progression is clear for all to see.
k-os’s insightful approach to music making has proven he is an artist with boundless limits, and certainly not one that appeases to fluctuating mainstream trends, in which his 2005 Grammy Nomination can attest. Over the span of his career, k-os has gone twice platinum, toured with Drake, recorded with The Chemical Brothers and won multiple JUNO awards, plus is double-digits deep with other prestigious nominations. But that is nothing to how he has evolved with each new release.
“This new single, which is raw, could only be this way because I feel new. And to feel new, you have to go away from something. Can’t Fly Without Gravity is the sound of somebody who’s having fun, and more secure in finding his place in the pop world, because I was so away from it for a bit. We all need to forget something that we like so that we can like it again.” Or, as k-os rapped 10 years ago: “The man I used to be, I can only see by looking beyond me.”
Welcome to the great beyond.